Examining the Hind End of Vietnamese Cuisine

I never really meant to start something called Poop Chute Theatre. It just came to life on its own. I trace its birth to a quick stroll through Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City. I didn’t go to Ben Thanh Market looking for souvenirs – it was way too early in the trip for that. I just like seeing what locals buy, checking out the Vietnamese cuisine and trolling for some of those incredible little mandarin oranges that seem to be everywhere in Asia (and yes, I found them). And I intentionally overlooked pho, since that’s really more of a northern specialty.

That’s when I passed be a three-by-two-foot mound of cow intestines, their flat-white color sucking in the ambient light. The mound inspired this Facebook post:

Two crazy things I’ve seen today: some dude riding a moped while carrying a bowl of pho in his left hand, and some stall at a market selling a prodigious pile of poop chute (aka beef small intestine).

The best response to that post came from Nick, who said: Just a pile? They might sell more if they put them on a big spool and sold them by the foot, like at a hardware store.

I saw a chance at some funny stuff here, so I kept my eyes peeled for more poop chute. But first … you might wonder why a market sells intestines. Well, tripe is a pretty common ingredient in foods from around the world beyond Vietnamese cuisine. Americans are squeamish about stuff like this. I’ve eaten tripe in menudo and pho. I’ll be honest – I’ll never go out of my way to eat it. Is that, at least in part, a result of growing up in a picky First World society that has so many resources that it can afford to throw calories away, or grind them up to use in dogfood and (probably) Big Macs? Yes, I’m sure that’s part of it. Because the texture isn’t far different in my mind from the rubbery feel of calamari. And people go crazy over that … but generally just when fried.

Anyway, I soon encountered more poop chute. And this time … I snapped a photo and added the caption: A lovely mound of poop chute for your post-holiday culinary plans.

hind end of cuisine
The photo that started my Facebook misadventures into the hindquarters of cuisine.

Soon, the madness continued. I assume these are cooked intestines since they don’t appear very sausage-like. It’s also the first time I used the phrase that defined every photo to come: That’s right, it’s time for a new episode of Poop Chute Theatre!

Vietnamese cuisine
Awaiting your bowl of pho?

Roy, a friend from the UK said: Hey Justin remember it’s breakfast time here in the UK when you post these photos! It’s putting me off my eggs & bacon. 😉

Heh. Maybe he should eat pho for breakfast to get into the spirit of things! Still, I switched things up a bit with the next installment of Poop Chute Theatre:

Today’s edition won’t make you lose your appetite for breakfast sausages. But it WILL make you think twice about drinking coffee at my house. Vietnam grows lots of coffee. And weasels enjoy eating the coffee berries. Hours later, poop goes the weasel – and out comes a coffee bean. As part of the No Coffee Bean Left Behind program, someone harvests the beans the weasels pass … which you can buy a Weasel Coffee at many fine markets.

Vietnamese Cuisine
What does the weasel poop?

I’m still skeptical about the claim. This coffee is too cheap to have gone through that much labor. The Economist agrees with me. Either way, the stuff is delicious. Whip it up using a French press, and it needs no cream or sugar. I suspect this involves good soil and a nice roast rather than a weasel’s digestive tract. Most importantly, the winning Facebook response comes from Mark. He’s fully into the spirit of these posts … which is NOT “look how weird people are in other countries.” His words:

this is amazing. kinda want to try a cup. btw i have you in vietnam and another friend in singapore right now and you are both absolutely kicking ass (in your case almost literally!) with sharing your cool adventures on FB.

Next comes a simple post: Submitted for your approval - Poop Chute Theatre.

Vietnamese cuisine
Poop Chute Theatre continues with this gem.

Now, here’s where things got really funny. I was sure my poor friends were worn out with photos of Vietnamese cuisine through the Poop Chute Theatre filter. So I decided to give them a break with this post (see the photo caption for the Facebook post text).

vietnamese cuisine
“Alright, alright … I’ll show you something nice. Hanoi in the morning.”

And Kym weighs in with a pair of responses that still make laugh:

I’m sure there are poop chutes in that water….

Three minutes later, Kym has more to say. And this is where it gets super-funny.

Why would I even say that? What has your Vietnam “poop chute theater” done to my brain…?

So, here’s the conclusion to my Poop Chute Theatre posts … more intestines waiting for the cooking pot. I spotted this scene shortly before heading out for three days of hiking among the Hmong villages. Sheldon called it an “organ recital” with his usual penchant for wordplay.

Vietnamese cuisine
“You didn’t really think I’d head off the grid before a good ol’-fashioned episode of Poop Chute Theatre, did you?”

Sheldon made me laugh, as did my old bandmate and friend Laura, who said:

“Dear god, that one in the middle even looks like it has a butt!!!!”

And Dan made a good account of himself, too.

“I keep hearing the song “Poop Chute Riot!” when you post these pics.”

So, what ultimately do I take from Vietnamese cuisine through my Poop Chute Theatre posts? Not a whole lot. You can eat well without any intestines making it into your meal. But you can see that intestines appeal to our tastebuds and eyeballs very little. I’m sure that’s a product of our culture – and I’m guilty of it to some extent.

I know many cultures use quite a few parts of the animals, snouts and sphincters included. As Nick says, though, we don’t use intestines as the end game. I’ve eaten rotten fermented shark meat and boiled silkworm larvae. I slammed a shot of rice alcohol aged with a dead cobra. I’m game to try new things. Still, intestines rank low on my “Eat This Again” list.

One thing is for certain: I don’t look down on Vietnamese cuisine or that of any other country for flying its digestive tract flag high. I find humor in it, sure, and you can blame Christopher Moore for inspiring me to use the phrase “poop chute” in his wonderful book “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” But it does me no favors in getting the uninitiated to try a bowl of pho.

If you switch it around, though, I’ll bet people from around the world get a kick out of some of the things Western nations consider tasty. And I’d love to know what they are.

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Social Media for Travel Geeks – About Trippy.com

A few days ago, I started playing around with a social media travel site called Trippy.com. In a nutshell, it lets you organize places you’ve been and places you want to go with a photo to represent each of them. Trippy.com lets you organize them in boards. Let’s say you want a board of cool hotels and the best places to get dessert around the world. Name the boards accordingly, and then search for the place in the Trippy.com database. You can pick a photo that’s offered, or upload your own.

It’s addicting fun, and a nice way for bloggers to get an extra link to their blog, generate buzz, swap travel ideas. It integrates into Facebook.com, and it’s easy to share your boards with other social media sites. I’ve built a few based on cool hotels, stuff to do and flavors of the world.

There’s just one thing that annoys me about Trippy.com: When you sign up, it automatically makes you follow a little clatch of flavor-of-the-moment celebrities. And that shows up on social media sites connected to your profile.

I turned purple with rage at the idea of anyone who knows me seeing "Justin followed Jason Mraz on Trippy.com" on any of my social media pages. I un-followed the pre-loaded celebrities with extreme prejudice – but not before it wound up on my Facebook.com profile.

A "nice to have" would be some way to post updates – just some sort of random, pithy, travel-related thoughts. It might exist, and I just haven’t found it yet; if so, feel free to correct me. The login process is also pretty slow – I’d blame that on all the needlessly cute animation – which add nothing to the experience.

So Trippy.com is good social media fun for travel fiends. It has some flaws, but the Trippy.com team seems open to feedback. I’d expect to see some changes in the near future that will improve the site. I’m for once a fairly early adopter (I think --), and very interested in seeing how this site plays out.

Don’t Call Me a “Consumer”

Don't call people "consumers" unless you think of them as the mob from "Idiocracy."

Some jewelry business followed me on Twitter today. Jewelry fascinates me, believe it or not. I consider it some of the finest everyday art. The follow earned my curiosity. I checked the business’s Twitter bio and found a marketing trainwreck (I’ve left the business unnamed to protect the ill-advised):

(Business Name) represents a small group of award-winning jewelry designers who share the dream of taking the consumer to the next level.

First, I have no idea what it means to take a consumer “to the next level” in jewelry. It’s hackneyed corporate-speak that has no place being applied to art.

Second, stating the name in the bio eats up valuable characters. It sounds old-school, like someone hired marketer told the company to start a Twitter account – but with no real idea of what to do next.

And finally, I hate being called a “consumer.” The root word is consume. Its connotation is mindless organisms eating everything around them in a non-stop feeding frenzy. It’s a repulsive image and a horrible word. Unfortunately, the Wal-Marts of the world put it to work. And smaller businesses lap it up and recycle it because they’re too uncreative to do better. Or maybe they don’t have the time. Or because they saw a successful business use it. Whatever. They’re just clueless about the power of words to position. To alienate. To inspire.

And a good business should have passion for what it does – especially a business that involves any sort of art! Where is the passion in “taking the consumer to the next level?” That’s a generic phrase for cubicle dwellers. It’s not for someone who appreciates the intricate, multi-colored banded swirls of a painstaking work of mokume gane.

If you’re a jewelry business, think of your potential customers as jewelry lovers. Convince them that they’re sophisticated. Tasteful. Enthusiastic. Not globs of matter gobbling whatever you plop in front of them. Sell the notion that you’re impressed by their aesthetic senses and their appreciation of jewelry as art. “Consumers” equates them to the fat, shuffling, monosyllabic hordes in the movie Idiocracy.

Businesses, prove your devotion to what you offer. Think of what you’re trying to sell me. And think of me in those terms. Call me a cyclist. Call me a hiker. Call me a traveler. Call me a flier. Call me a reader.

But only call me “a consumer” at your own risk.